WWE Money in the Bank: CM Punk and Some of WWE's Most Controversial Moments
The June 27 "worked-shoot" by CM Punk has created a buzz about professional wrestling that has notably been missing since The Rock made his return to the business prior to Wrestlemania 27. Fans are excited and are left questioning just what will take place Sunday at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view. Will Punk leave with the WWE Championship? Will John Cena save the company from that embarrassment? Will Punk actually leave at all?
There have been other moments in pro wrestling history that have created a buzz for the industry. These are moments that created an excitement for the product and made it necessary for fans to tune in on Monday and Friday nights to see what would happen next. Some moments ushered in entire eras while others broke monotony and reminded fans of why the entertainment art form used to be so much fun.
Of course, not all controversial moments could be positive. Many have created the wrong type of "buzz" and have reminded many a fan of why they were embarrassed to admit their fandom of wrestling in the first place. Those controversial moments have almost no redeeming qualities and were simply controversial for controversy's sake.
Join me as I take a stroll down memory lane and remember some of the company's more memorable moments of controversy.
Pillman's Got a Gun
The first controversial moment on our list may be the most controversial of all.
In the fall of 1996, the World Wrestling Federation was very much in a state of transition. It had seemingly left behind most of the cartoon-ish failures of the financially-disastrous "New Generation" but had yet to understand or embrace the edginess of the Attitude Era. The characters were in place, with Goldust, Mankind, Steve Austin and Psycho Sid presenting a darker persona than the likes of Freddy Joe Floyd and Barry Horrowitz, but the story-telling had yet to catch up.
That all changed on an October night when Vince McMahon, Vince Russo and the booking team decided to introduce a new element to WWF television, something that would innovate and revolutionize the business just two years later but something fans were not quite ready to embrace at the time. It would be a favorite of Russo for years to come. That something was "shock TV."
The infamous edition of Raw began with the promise of an interview featuring the "Loose Cannon" Brian Pillman, via satellite from his home in Kentucky. The interview started off innocently enough, as Kevin Kelly asked Pillman about his injured ankle, the result of an attack by his former best friend "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. The interview quickly devolved, however, as Austin arrived outside the house and assaulted security and Pillman’s closest friends. The camera cut in doors in time to see Pillman readying a 9mm handgun, and a standoff between he and Austin ensued. Because of the use of a firearm in the evening’s broadcast, heat between the USA Network and Vince McMahon also ensued.
The angle was the company’s first attempt at "shock TV" and largely was considered a flop. While the company would attempt several other shocking angles through the years, each with their own differing levels of effectiveness, there has always been a stigma attached to the use of guns for anything other than comedic purposes. While the company fancies itself as an entertainment brand, it has, for the most part, proven to have a line even they will not cross. Firearms cross that line.
Sable Strips Down
Upon his return to the World Wrestling Federation in the fall of 1997, it was apparent that Marc Mero had developed a new attitude while sidelined due to a severe knee injury. During his time on the shelf, Mero was forced to watch as his valet Sable became one of the most popular personalities in the company. When he returned, he seethed with jealousy, listening to the reaction she received while it appeared as if fans neglected him.
Mero took his frustrations out on Sable, humiliating her in a weekly basis and berating her before and after his matches. On one memorable edition of Raw, he ordered Sable to the ring. The fans popped for her arrival but were soon left disappointed when she appeared, wearing a potato sack that completely covered her magnificent figure. He degraded her in front of the live and viewing audiences. He then ordered her to take his robe. Instead, she hesitated and then stripped the sack from her own body, revealing a very skimpy, barely-there thong bikini. The fans erupted and Mero was left irate.
Much like the Pillman incident, this moment was meant as a message to the rest of the wrestling world. No longer would the WWF sit back and allow Ted Turner’s WCW, with its nWo angle in full-force, destroy them on a weekly basis in the ratings. They were embracing a more testosterone-fueled product, one that spit in the face of authority and censors and one that appealed to the all-important male,18-35 demographic.
Prior to this, females had been treated as classy valets or devious, annoying heels. Sunny arrived in 1995, and her sex-appeal had been touched on previous to Sable’s disrobement. But this was the first real instant of the company blatantly portraying one of their female acts as a sex symbol. The gloves were off, and the sexual content of the shows began to increase at an alarming rate.
Parents, for the most part, hated the idea that sex sold. Teenage males saw Sable parading around the ring with just about everything on display, and were excited. They decided to tune in again the following week to see the beautiful blonde and what she would do next. It was a fine example of controversy creating cash and one that Vince McMahon would build in as the Attitude Era advanced.
Eric Bischoff, Vince McMahon and Hell Is Freezing
The year 2002 was a tale of two different brands within World Wrestling Entertainment. While Smackdown was revolutionizing the sport with spectacular in-ring content thanks to the likes of Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, Rey Mysterio, Edge, Eddie Guerrero and Chavo Guerrero, Raw was in a state of transition. There were few truly talented in-ring performers, and its biggest star, Stone Cold Steve Austin, had walked out in a sign of his frustration with the creative team. Ratings were down from the record highs the company had enjoyed throughout the Attitude Era, and with WCW and ECW both defunct, there was a decided lack of excitement about professional wrestling.
Enter Eric Bischoff.
On the July 15, 2002 edition of Raw, a major announcement regarding a general manager for the brand was promised. It was hyped throughout the program and many wondered who the mystery authority figure would be. Would it be another McMahon family member? How about a returning Steve Austin? The answer would shock even the most cynical and the smartest of marks.
As Booker T finished a backstage promo, Eric Bischoff walked by, seemingly stunning the former WCW Champion. Moments later, Vince McMahon walked on stage and presented Bischoff to a shocked live audience and an equally-speechless television audience. Then, in one of the most surreal moments in wrestling history, the two hated enemies, the biggest and most powerful men in the business during the 1990’s, embraced at the top of the Raw ramp.
The moment was shocking. Fans tuned in the following week just to see what would happen next. Unfortunately, the company and its creative team would be unable to maintain the momentum and the initial interest wore off eventually. But for those who remember that night, who remember the sight of Bischoff and McMahon hugging and imaging Satan freezing his ass off somewhere deep down south, it was a controversial moment that created interest in a sub-par interest and, even if only momentary, brought fans back.
We've Got Two Words for Ya...Katie Vick
The worst storyline in the history of professional wrestling, the Katie Vick angle was another in a long line of storylines meant to shock and create a buzz about WWE’s product. Instead, it reached a new level of stupidity.
Triple H, the World Heavyweight Champion in October of 2002, was programmed with Kane. Perhaps Vince and company felt the feud was stale or that fans had been there, seen that before and wanted to add another layer to the rivalry. Whatever the case, what resulted was among the worst ideas in the history of any form of entertainment, let alone professional wrestling.
Following a TLC match victory for Kane, which saw him inexplicably defeat three other tag teams single-handedly, Triple H appeared at the top of the ramp and revealed to the fans across the country that the "Big Red Machine" was really a "Big Red Murderer!" Fans were shocked. Internet writers were shocked. The wrestling world was shocked...by the angle’s sheer stupidity.
In the following weeks, Triple H would tell Kane’s story to the world. He would reveal the victim as Kane’s high school sweetheart, Katie Vick. Apparently, Kane was driving drunk the night of a car accident that would kill Vick. Then, in a completely tasteless turn that took the angle from absurd to downright offensive, Triple H revealed that Kane partook in necrophilia, having sex with the corpse of his girlfriend. The following week, a revolting video parody, featuring Triple H dressed as Kane having his way with a "corpse" (a mannequin) in a funeral parlor, added to the angle’s legendary awfulness.
The blow-off was a terrible match at the No Mercy pay-per-view, which, like most of "The Game’s" 2002 matches, saw Triple H kill Kane’s momentum dead and continue what many consider a reign of terror. The angle had no long-lasting effects, mainly because of its stupidity and the fans’ anxiousness to move past it and forget it ever happened. To this day, however, when speaking of the worst angles in wrestling history, the mere mention of "Katie Vick" incites groans and bad memories.
The storyline was highly controversial but for all the wrong reasons. It did not result in higher ratings and it did not attract any sort of mainstream publicity. It did little for the sport other than remind fans of why they were embarrassed to admit they were wrestling fans in the first place. To this day, Vince McMahon claims he thought the angle was funny. Perhaps therein lies the problem.
"Somebody Like You Doesn't Get to Be a World Champion"
By the spring of 2003, it became more and more clear that Booker T would challenge Triple H for the World Championship at Wrestlemania XIX. What no one saw coming, however, were the racial undertones that would surround the build-up to the match and the terrible taste the finish of the contest would leave with fans for months to come.
On a very memorable edition of Raw prior to the year’s big event, Triple H approached Booker T in the ring and not so subtly told him that African-American people do not win World Championships. Over the years, the company has put up smoke screens, repeatedly claiming that that was not what Triple H meant at all and that he was referring to Booker’s past legal history. Regardless of what the true motive of the comment and proceeding comments were, the entire ordeal left a very bad taste in fans’ mouths. There was one bright spot, however: The company had obviously set Booker up to capture the World Championship and enjoy a Wrestlemania moment, right?
After a month of being told African-Americans don’t win World Champions, fans witnessed Triple H pin Booker T clean in the the center of the ring at Wrestlemania XIX. It was an outcome no one expected or wanted, and it nearly killed all of Booker’s momentum. He would not reach the World Championship picture again until 2006, when he adopted the "King Booker" gimmick and revitalized his career with a months-long title run. Regardless, the racist nature of the Wrestlemania angle was uncalled for, created no real buzz and fizzled following a disappointing Wrestlemania outcome.
The Nexus Is Upon Us
The summer of 2010 was shaping up to be another boring span of WWE television, complete with the same main event stars and the same, stale matches. John Cena was the WWE Champion, defending his title against the likes of Edge, Randy Orton and Sheamus, programs the WWE Universe had bore witness to on several occasions. Then, on one June night, the entire WWE was turned upside down following one of the most memorable, shocking, unexpected moments in the history of the Monday night program.
As John Cena squared off with CM Punk in the main event, Wade Barrett appeared in the aisle way. This was not completely unexpected. The winner of NXT, he was bound to make an impact sooner or later. When Michael Tarver, Daniel Bryan, Darren Young, David Otunga, Justin Gabriel and Skip Sheffield appeared around the ringside area, however, the angle that would carry Raw through the remainder of 2010 was born.
The original cast of NXT jumped the guard rails and assaulted everyone from Punk to Cena to cameramen to time keeper Mark Yeaton and ring announcer Justin Roberts. They destroyed equipment and left the ring and its surrounding areas looking like a war zone. It seemed as though the company had finally taken the advice of internet fans everywhere and pushed young, up-and-coming talent into the main event picture.
The buzz resulting from the angle was loud and clear. There was an excitement surround the wrestling business that had been missing in recent years. Barrett and company would enjoy major success throughout the course of summer, fall and winter, and while ratings showed no real movement, the angle was an indicator that the company was willing to go out on a limb and feature young, unproven talent in a major storyline.
CM Punk Shoots
Simply put, on the June 27, 2011 edition of Raw, CM Punk was allowed the opportunity to say exactly what die-hard internet wrestling fans have been saying for years. He "tore down the fourth wall" and vocally destroyed kayfabe in one epic rant.
While the promo was worked in that it was a scheduled part of the show, Punk shot from the hip, laying all of his frustrations with Vince McMahon, WWE and the fans out on the table for the world to listen to. He described his frustration with the lack of merchandising and marketing he was a part of, despite being one of the true main event talents the company has. He chastised McMahon for surrounding himself with self-serving ass kissers and yes, men. He even used his words to assault Triple H and Stephanie McMahon.
The promo is only three weeks old, but has taken its place in history with the great promos of all-time. In one night, CM Punk revitalized a stagnant wrestling industry and made fans genuinely excited about a product that had begun to fall back into its pre-Wrestlemania doldrums. While the results of Punk's promo have yet to truly be felt, there is no denying that future generations of wrestling fans will one day,look back on the rant and construct entire articles based on its specifics and its long-lasting effects on the industry. Some have compared the promo to the Austin 3:16 promo from King of the Ring 1996, which ignited the Superstar of Steve Austin and ushered in the Attitude Era.
Only time will tell if Punk's promo will have the same effects or if it was simply a mark out-worthy promo cut by the best interview in the business.